Tennessee was able to play good enough ball to beat the Gamecocks and start the season 1-0 last week and now the Vols host the Missouri Tigers in hopes of moving to 2-0.
There was a lot to like last week, but there are a few areas the Vols need to work if they want to get better every week.
What do they need to make sure they do to beat Missouri? Well, let’s dive in and find out.
1. Convert third down opportunities
Tennessee’s third down offense was simply terrible last week. The Vols converted just 1 of 12 third down attempts, which was good for a whopping 8.3% conversion rate. They have just one more third down conversion than Tulsa, who have zero and are dead last in the country.
Poor throws, penalties, and other mistakes are what kept Tennessee from converting the money down last Saturday. It was pretty much poor execution all the way around. Brandon Johnson’s spectacular one-handed catch was the only third down conversion of the game and that happened on the Vols’ first drive. Tennessee had two more drives that resulted in touchdowns and they didn’t face a third down on either drive.
The national average is 43%. That’s obviously much higher than Tennessee’s rate, so it’s going to take a minute to get the numbers up, but the Vols face a Missouri defense that allowed Alabama to convert nine of 14 third down attempts last week. There should be plenty of opportunities to get on track in this regard. If the Vols want to beat good teams, then they’ll have to improve here, as well.
2. Don’t let Missouri’s quarterbacks settle in
One of last week’s keys was getting Jarrett Guarantano in an early rhythm. This week, the Vols need to get after Mizzou’s quarterbacks. That’s right, I said quarterbacks. Shawn Robinson and Connor Bazelak are both listed as co-starters for this game.
Robinson had a decent game last week, but the Tigers could only muster 13 points. Bazelak played two series, one being a 14-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown.
For head coach Eli Drinkwitz, it’s all about how many points a quarterback can put on the board. That’s why both players will get their shot at being the top guy.
“That’s the No. 1 criteria for being the quarterback,” Drinkwitz told reporters earlier in the week. “It’s really not stats, it’s really not all the different other measurements. It’s about, do you lead your team on scoring drives? Those guys were consistent in doing that in fall camp. That’s what they gotta both consistently do.”
You know how the saying goes in football: If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.
The Vols can’t let either one of these guys settle in on Saturday. The main reason is because effective quarterback play is key to winning games in the SEC, but it’s also because both quarterbacks have a different style of play. Robinson is more of a mobile, move-the-pocket type of guy whereas Bazelak is more of a pocket passer. Keeping both quarterbacks in rotation could possibly lead to keeping the entire offense out of synch/rhythm.
And if that happens, then the Tennessee defense can flex its muscles, especially the front seven. It’s weird seeing Missouri with questions at the position after years of solid play, but hey, I’m sure the Vols will take it.
3. Get off to a fast start
Alabama went three-and-out on its first drive, but it was game on afterward. The Crimson Tide racked up 294 total yards and 28 points over the next five possessions and jumped out to a 28-3 lead. Missouri simply didn’t have enough to overcome the deficit, even to the point where Alabama pulled its starters at the half.
Tennessee doesn’t need to copy Alabama’s performance (although it would be nice if they did), but it certainly does need to get out to a fast start on Saturday. That may be easier said than done when you factor in a 12PM kick, however, it would make the quick start even more impressive if it was pulled off.
The Vols aren’t up to the standards of the Tide yet, but I think they are in the same category when it comes to having exponentially more talent than Missouri. If the Vols get out to a big lead off a fast start, then you can basically put the Tigers to bed.
This team thrives off of confidence and there’s nothing that instill confidence quicker than coming out of the gates on fire. Let’s hope the Vols are able to do that on Saturday.
What are your keys to victory for this week’s game? Let us know in the comment section below!